Curtis Killorn painted tree

Curtis Killorn: Artist or vandal?

Curtis Killorn painted tree
Photo: Curtis Killorn

Curtis Killorn, an artist in Salida, Colo., likes his canvases au naturel. He finds and paints trees. Dead ones. Snags. The kind that a property owner might cut down. Or a woodpecker inhabit. Or a photographer capture on film. Or a hiker admire.

I learned about him in a Huffington Post article that includes a photo gallery of his work, and I looked through the photos before I read the story.

I ran a gamut of emotions as I went through the pictures, read the story, and perused the comments. Initially I thought the trees were beautiful; their bold, gradient colors took thought and a deft hand. And they brightened what might otherwise be considered a rather dull vista of scrub and boulders. In some of the photos, they make a bright frame for the little town of Salida.

But you soon ask yourself, Whose trees are those? On whose land? Did he ask permission to do that? Turns out he didn’t ask permission in the beginning. And he was fined for painting a tree that was on federal land, although he never had to pay.

Being the conservationist that I am, I soon concluded that, no, as pretty as they are on their own, I don’t want those trees appearing in the landscape when I’m out enjoying nature and her art. I like my trees as nature painted them with wind and rain, heat and cold. If a private landowner or the city of Salida give him permission, fine. Public art exists in many American cities. But on public land without permission, no. In national forests and parks, absolutely not.

Killorn’s own website hints at a better approach, which one reader elaborated on. Buy or salvage a few interesting trees, paint them as you see fit, and then indulge in “flash art.” Set them up surreptitiously to surprise and hopefully delight the public, then remove them to strike again another day. Or at the request of the city, create permanent displays. No defacement of naturally standing trees, no issues of whose land or trees are involved. Art lovers get their art. And nature remains undisturbed.

7 thoughts on “Curtis Killorn: Artist or vandal?

  1. His art really is beautiful, but I have to agree with your assessment of the situation. However, I’d also be very surprised if he didn’t get plenty of offers to do his work legitimately.

  2. To each his own I guess. I’m not at all impressed by someone dabbing paint on what was once a picturesque dead tree. It’s just me. I don’t understand some things that other people call ‘art.’ People string bolts of cloth over the landscape, or hang it from a bridge and call it art. I just don’t see it. Color me gray I guess.

      1. I’m also assuming the wildlife will be spooked by it, the people driving beside the river either won’t be able to see the river or won’t be able to see the sky, the vegetation will suffer from lack of sun, and any additional tourist traffic it might generate will not do the environment any good, even though it may fatten the wallets of local businessmen. It’s not like Colorado needs more tourists. I think the entire project is atrocious. But, hey, what do I know? People far more influential than I think it’s a great idea.

      2. Oh, wait, I’m beginning to see a pattern here. The stretch of river where this thing is to be built is anchored at one end by Salida. That’s where our tree-painting artist lives. Hmm …

... and that's my two cents